Thursday, October 11, 2012

Steve Evans

On Monday, Steve Evans’ Attention Span – his annual collection of reading recommendations from a wide range of poets – included my first participation in the list. All of the works I recommended there are terrific, and I commend them to you as well. Plus this feature has always been a great way to get a sense of who is excited about what, much more focused & thus useful than, say, a steady trickle of Friday’s reading on Facebook or piecemeal via Good Reading-type compendia. Here is my list and accompanying remarks.

Only when I finished writing this did I realize that six of these seven books are by women, that only one was published solely in the United States, and that all are at least partly the work of independent publishers, plus one of the very few university presses that mattered, the University of New Orleans Press. One press, Shearsman, has had a hand in a majority of these books. In an epoch in which over one million titles are published each year, how does one small press corner this much of the market of the very best?

Tony Lopez | Only More So | Shearsman / University of New Orleans | 2011

I cannot imagine a book of poetry that I have gained more from coming out of England since The Prelude, and I’ve said as much on the book’s rear cover. Lopez is an extraordinary observer not just of life (and lives), but likewise language (and languages). This book also is an instance–as are three of the Chus Pato volumes below–of what becomes feasible globally when independent presses collaborate across borders. We don’t have to wait 50 or 100 years (or forever) for trade presses to play catch up (and then pretend they promoted this work from day one). Only More So is also the capstone of the great, but short-lived publishing venture that is / was the University of New Orleans Press, headed up by Bill Lavender. UNO Press showed what becomes possible when Uni presses think and act like independent publishers, something that happens all too rarely alas.

Rae Armantrout | Custom | above/ground | 2012
Lyn Hejinian | The Book of a Thousand Eyes | Omnidawn | 2012

It will be no surprise that Hejinian & Armantrout are two of my favorite writers. Both poets have long, important relationships with small presses. While Armantrout has published mostly with Wesleyan in recent years, Custom, from rob mclennan’s stellar micropress in Ottawa is a reminder that Armantrout’s roots are not in the academy. Although being with Wesleyan enabled Armantrout to collect the Pulitzer, the sameness of Wesleyan’s books, year to year, author to author, serves none of their writers very well. I can assure you that these poems will look tonier, but not any better, when they appear in Just Saying in ought-13. Hejinian on the other hand has published only one collection of essays with a university press, none with trade houses, 36 volumes with independent presses, including self-publishing several via her own Tuumba Press. Eyes is Hejinian’s masterpiece, a series of literary interventions that invoke the great Russian novels of the 19th & early 20th centuries. I never want it to end. & I hope Omnidawn sells copies of this book forever.

Chus Pato, trans. Erín Moure | Secession | Zat-So | 2012
Chus Pato, trans. Erín Moure |
Hordes of Writing | Shearsman / Buschekbooks | 2011
Chus Pato, trans. Erín Moure |
m-Talá | Shearsman / Buschekbooks | 2009
Chus Pato, trans. Erín Moure |
Charenton | Shearsman / Buschekbooks | 2007

My Big Aha for 2012 is this Galician separatist adult education teacher producing the most intense literature on a world scale in a language most Americans have never even heard about. In Pato’s work, Sade, Kafka, Benjamin & the working poor of northwest Spain come face to face in ways that are totally surprising & feel completely right. Imagine what Roberto Bolaño might have been like had he believed in his own politics or taken feminism (or poetry) seriously! Pato is extraordinarily fortunate–and so are we–to have Erín Moure as her English language translator. These are masterful volumes, thoughtful, funny, thoroughly political & superbly conceived. And again, the majority of these books are global collaborations between Shearsman & publishers in the West. Still to be translated: five early books and 2010’s Nacer é unha república de árbores.